Last week I was introduced to the new Royer R-10 Bi-Directional ribbon microphone. The R-10 is very similar to the classic R-121 in design. It’s small and lightweight, which allows you to position the microphone without any intrusion, and utilizes the same ribbon transducer.
Throughout this blog, we’ll look at what makes each of these microphones special in their own regard and pit them against each other in a shootout on some different guitars and amplifiers.
Watch our microphone shootout featuring the Royer R-121 and R-10 below and continue on to read more about these incredible microphones.
The R-121 is Royer’s flagship microphone, which utilizes the groundbreaking R-series ribbon transducer. Combining neodymium magnets and a patented direct-corrugation, off-set ribbon design, the transducer is the heart of all R-series microphones that followed.
This microphone is very different from older ribbon mics which were typically large, heavy and fragile. The R-121 has a slim, sleek and durable design, which can handle high SPLs that would shred an older style ribbon microphone. The introduction of the R-121 brought ribbon microphones back into mainstream recording and found its way into almost every professional recording facility around the globe.
The 2.5 micron offset ribbon delivers fidelity, durability and a slightly brighter response from the rear of the microphone when used within three feet of any sound source, providing more tonal choices to work with.
I’ve always been a big fan of the R-121 for many years, it would probably be my desert island microphone because it’s good on just about every source from drums, brass, electric guitar and bass to acoustic instruments, strings and percussion. It has a wide dynamic range with a rich low end and has the ability to take large amounts of EQ if necessary.
If you're looking for a microphone to act as a perfect complement to digital recording systems, the R-121 is it. It delivers classic ribbon warmth and smoothness with a distinct analog feel that has a reminisce of recording to a high-quality tape machine.
The R-121 can stand alone by itself and capture a pure representation of just about any source you put in front of it, but many engineers like to pair this mic with either a dynamic or condenser. They use the ribbon to capture the natural tone of the source, low end response and transient response, then blend another microphone in the capture other elements such as more mid-range or a more detailed high end.
The R-10 is comparable to the R-121 and is a fraction of the price. It sets itself apart from the R-121 with its custom-designed impedance-matching transformer which minimizes saturation. The open grill configuration minimizes standing waves and associated comb-filtering effects.
The microphone also includes a new multi-layered windscreen that provides superior protection from plosives and air blasts, which also reduces the proximity effect. This allows the R-10 to be placed right up against an electric guitar cabinet or acoustic instrument without all the bass build up from a traditional ribbon microphone.
Similar to the R-121, the patented off-set ribbon design positions the ribbon elements towards the front of the microphone to handle the extreme SPL, with the option to use the rear of the microphone for a brighter frequency response when recording lower SPL. The R-10 features a flat frequency response and a well-balanced sound-field and can handle SPLs up to 160dB at 1kHz.
The Royer R-121 v.s R-10
We had to put these microphones to the test and see how the R-10 matches up to the R-121, and I can say I was truly surprised with how the R-10 held up. For the demo, we did three styles of electric guitar.
One setup was a Fender Telecaster running through a Fender Super Reverb on a cleaner setting. The second setup was a Gibson Les Paul running through a Metropoulos GPM 45 on a dirtier rock setting. The third setup was the Fender Telecaster running through a vintage Magnatone M-10 which had a slightly overdriven solid state sound.
I positioned both microphones right next to each other about 2” - 3” away from one of the speakers. It wouldn’t always be my first choice on how to mic an electric guitar cabinet, but I wanted to show the differences between the two mics proximity effect and have more direct source signal than room tone.
Both microphones were running through a Shadow Hills GAMA preamp on the steel setting, no additional EQ or compression. The preamps were feeding directly into our Burl Audio converters which then fed the line inputs of the Tree Audio Roots console. When I did the audio bounces for the demo video, I didn’t sum through the console, so no extra vibe or warmth was added.
One thing to mention before getting into the specific examples was that the R-10 required a bit more gain than the R-121. On most of the examples, the R-10 was about 5-6 clicks above the R-121 on the Shadow Hills preamp. Rather than setting them to the exact same level on the preamp, I did a level match so both signals were hitting the converters at the same level.
On the Fender Super Reverb with the Telecaster, I dialed in a warm clean tone with some lush reverb. When I listened back to the results, I was shocked on how close the R-10 sounded to the R-121. On this specific example, I think the R-121 would be the winner. Because of the new windscreen design in the R-10, it didn’t capture as much low end as the R-121, and on a warm clean electric tone, that’s the stuff I’m looking for. The R-10 did however capture more detail in the higher frequencies than the R-121. The R-121 had a smoother top end, but the R-10 had a bit more shine to it.
On the Metropoulos GPM 45 with the Gibson Les Paul, I dialed in a gritty Marshall style tube distortion. For this example, I think the R-10 took the win. With all the build up in the low end from the R-121, the tone was a little too thick and chunky without a crisp definition in the high end. This is where I would pair the R-121 with something like a Shure SM57 or Neumann KM84 or KM184, then do a volume blend between the two mics to dial in the tone that I’m looking for. The R-121 would be used for all that low end and the other mic would try and focus on the mid-range or higher frequencies.
The R-10 however handled the extreme volume of the amp and captured a near perfect picture of the sound. The multi-layered windscreen reduced the low end information, but still captured all the weight from the speakers and allowed more of the higher frequencies to cut through. Without any EQ applied to this microphone or pairing it with anything else, I think the tone would sit great in a rock or blues style recording.
With the Magnatone M-10 and the Telecaster, I was going for a slightly overdriven solid state distortion tone. In the live room, the amp didn’t really have all that much low end information, but when listening back in the control room, it seemed like it was booming with low end information. If this were an actual recording session, I would’ve probably scrapped both microphones for this source, or at least tried moving them away from the amp or pair one of them with another style mic mentioned before. But I still wanted to demonstrate how both mics held up so close to the speaker. This might have been a good use for the rear side of the microphone which captures a brighter tone, but I think the amp was cranked a bit too much, which could have harmed the ribbons.
With that being said, I think the R-10 took the win on this setup as well. Same as the Metropoulos example, the R-121 was capturing too much low end information and wasn’t capturing the higher frequency detail. The R-10 didn’t have as much build up in the lower frequencies and also had a crispier top end that sounded much closer to the amp in the room.
The R-10 is priced at $499 which includes a road-ready hard case, proprietary threaded mic clip and felt bag to protect the microphone. That’s a lot of microphone for the price, and holds up very well to the R-121 which is priced at $1,295. Both microphones should be in every mic locker. If the R-121 doesn’t perform the way you’re hoping it to, the R-10 is a perfect compliment, still maintaining the overall character of the R-series ribbons, but less build up in the low end while delivering a bright and airy top end.